Racket sports fans generally are divided in two groups. The first group rather buys a new frame every season, inspired by the new frame of their favourite pro’s. This group is almost certainly certain that having the newest gear will help them win those decisive points and moments on court. The other group… well, let’s just say these players finally get ultimate confidence when their rackets just reached their 10th birthday! If they’d have an option to play with wooden frames, they’d do it… It’s just so hard to string a wooden frame properly, isn’t it?
Just kidding around… In the end, you probably know good players from both groups. So is there something safe to say about their gear? Can we objectively state that a racket has a life expectancy? How long can a racket really last?
In short, and all other things being equal, a racket for an intermediate, frequent player can last about two to three years. In this case we would consider the player player about two or three times a week and getting his or her racket restrung at least once a month. And especially this last factor influences life span majorly. That’s because stringing a racket practically means warping the frame a bit when applying tension to the strings and thus, the frame. Only when all strings are installed correctly, the frame will be in balance again and returned to it’s original shape. That means, in addition to hitting the ball with your racket, the total number of stringing jobs will in turn cause fibers to eventually lose RA or flex.
Material makes confident
Brands are constantly developing rackets and materials and need to keep researching in order to win the majorly competitive sales battles in sport shops and on the internet. More importantly, most of us can definitely relate to a certain placebo effect when it comes to your own gear. If you have the idea that you’re playing with the best racket ever because it’s new, than chances are great that you are actually playing with a lot of confidence. We have to acknowledge that racket sports fall within the space of tough, mental games and whether you like it or not, how you step on to the court has a great influence in the outcome of your games.
Pro’s (almost) never switch
However, when we look at pro’s and their life long careers we can’t help but notice that during their careers they almost never switch their gear. Why is this? Well, first of all, it must not come as a surprise that all of these top player are top earners of the game. Their livelyhoods and those of their family members all depend on their ability to keep scoring points, week after week after week. So it’s completely understandable that switching a frame is a major deal for these guys and girls.
On the other hand, they also receive a great deal of their income by being endorsed by racket manufacturers and major brands. These sponsors want to sell their latest frames and that’s where tension starts to heat up. Just because brands update their paint jobs on frames, it does not mean pro’s are happy to say goodbye to their long trusted money makers. It actually rarely happens that pro players make an immediate switch, but most of the times do some testing and eventually, some times make a sudden switch because in the end they think they have found a tweak in their game.
A famous example concerns Roger Federer and his Pro Staff’s, where he decided to play with new frames of head size 97, rather than 90. They increase in power he got used to playing with eventually led him up the top rankings again. And this is exactly why I would advise you to always be careful when selecting rackets based on pro’s who tend to allegedly play with these frames. In short, they are not. And they are not playing with the frames that you buy in the store, because almost every model you see on your tv screen is what is called in the industry, a ‘pro stock’ version of the frame. Meaning it is customised specifically for this pro player. It could be something just as easy as placing some lead tape at certain places or regripping the grips to match a certain shape type (sometimes to match the grip mould of another brand).
As these tweaks are being researched and developed by brands and professionals specifically for these pro’s, chances are they you’ll see a player featuring a black out version of a certain type of frame. Sometimes this can even be another brand and the string logo is supposed to hide this fact. Well, well, well… so much for trying to put together an honest game, right?
Never change a winning team?
It’s understandable that a lot of club players eventually experience something similar in the fact that they have found the perfect match and they are happy to keep it this way for years. In the end, practice makes perfect, right? In fact, rumour has it that Pete Sampras was advised to make the same switch as Roger Feder, e.g. to step over to a bigger head size. As you can guess, he declined the advise but experts think he could have extended his career at least by a couple of years, benefitting from the increase of power in his shots.
In any case, there a tons of different reasons to switch or not to switch frames and it will always be a somewhat difficult discussion to win. The question we are posing here of course is a bit more scientific by nature. If we just focus on the more physical and technical aspects of a frame, will there an end to it’s life span? And does this differ per racket sport?
Do not throw it away
As we mentioned earlier, the number of stringing jobs is a major factor in the life expectancy of a frame. But it’s worth mentioning here, that this will definitely not mean that a frame will break while being in the stringing machine (although, it’s possible in the reality this rarely happens and normally only when the stringer makes an essential mistake). It just basically means that during the course of it’s life span of two to three years the stiffness of the frame, measured in RA value or flex, will gradually decrease. This means that the fibre structure with which the frame was build, will soften a bit and loosen up a bit. When you’ll be hitting the ball in a couple years from now, you would be able to tell that the frame does not match up to a newly bought frame. But as you normally don’t test it like this and the decrease happens so gradually, the vast majority of players can’t even notice this process. In fact, you’ll probably be adjusting your game accordingly without you even knowing it. That’s just how psychology of the game works… But of course, physic always has an absolute answer.
What is your experience with the life expectancy of frames? And do you notice differences between tennis, badminton and squash frames? Please let us know by leaving a comment and join the discussion.